ISO 14001 Life Cycle Assessment in Environmental Management

ISO 14001:2015 – Environmental Management Systems – Requirements With Guidance For Use was released on September 14, 2015. This standard, while still providing the requirements for enacting, maintaining, and continually improving an environmental management system, contains significant changes from its predecessor. This is largely due to a greater understanding of environmental management and an urgent need to respond to related issues accordingly. An important addition to the updated standard is the use of life-cycle assessment (LCA).

The Stages of Life-Cycle Assessment

Life cycle assessment is remarkably important when it comes to proper environmental care. The four stages of the life-cycle are extraction of raw materials, manufacturing, use, and disposal. Each of these has the opportunity for pollution and environmental degradation.

Each stage of the life-cycle requires energy and resources to function. Acknowledgement of this fact is a step forward from past thinking, in which companies and policy makers primarily focused on energy and waste management during production.

However, this perspective does not allow for proper environmental stewardship, since it overlooks the different outputs that can occur during a product’s lifetime. For example, creating public policy meant to limit the greenhouse gas emissions during the manufacturing of a product disregards the emissions that derive from the machines used to extract the material during the first stage of the product life-cycle. Also, by attempting to clean up waste that comes as a by-product of manufacturing, companies and policymakers glance over the environmental issues resulting from accumulation of discarded products after they are used.

Burden Shifting in Life-Cycle Assessment

Another important idea from LCA is prevention of burden shifting. Life-cycle thinking requires decision-makers to consider every stage involved with a product. A solution to one stage, while limiting the amount of environmental harm that can come directly from the processes of that stage, should not create new issues for another stage.

A life-cycle mindset involves recycling of anything used throughout the cycle, limiting any negative outputs and externalities. This allows for the life-cycle to repeat itself following the final stage, maintaining a closed system that has limited environmental impact.

Properly following a sustainable model can lead to economic benefits as well. Some of the outputs used in an unsustainable life-cycle model can be more expensive than if they were completely avoided. Take for example, an electronics organization that does nothing to encourage proper disposal of their products at the end of their lifetimes, leading to large amounts of waste. Instead, the organization could encourage a special recycling program, which would allow resources to be reused, instead of having to expend time and energy to extract more metal. Also, preventing things like air pollution lowers any costs that would be needed to clean the air in the future.

Life-Cycle Assessment in International Standards

Life-cycle assessment is covered in depth in the ISO standards ISO 14044:2006: Environmental management – Life cycle assessment – Requirements and guidelines and ISO 14040:2006: Environmental management – Life cycle assessment – Principles and framework, which comprise the Environmental Management Life Cycle Assessment Package.

The newest version of ISO 14001 is available for download on the ANSI Webstore.

ISO 14001 Management Systems Certification and Accreditation

Similar to how the four stages of the life-cycle support and feed into one another, there are various levels of the conformity assessment and credentialing sector as well.

When an organization wants to establish an environmental management system, the follow the requirements of ISO 14001. To demonstrate adherence to those requirements, many of these organizations will seek out certification to the standard. But how can one know if a certification body is confident?

The ANSI National Accreditation Board (ANAB) accredits ISO 14001 management systems certification bodies to the requirements of ISO/IEC 17021. The mark of ANAB accreditation for management systems certification bodies is a label of confidence and trust for anyone seeking certification in limiting their environmental impact.

You can learn more about Accreditation for ISO 14001 Environmental Management Systems here or search for ANAB accredited ISO 14001 management systems bodies here.

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